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Illegal Tender Review


Bad
When the production credits that open writer/director Franc. Reyes' (we don't understand the period, either) crime drama Illegal Tender appear in gloriously cheesy '70s blaxploitation font with an equally gaudy title graphic depicting a sexy silhouette inside a dollar sign, the anticipation of either a riveting throwback or tongue-in-cheek parody appears. Either of these options would have been better than the nothing that follows.

For the first 15 minutes we're treated to the back story of '80s gangster Wilson Deleon Sr. (Manny Perez), a hard-working, merciful Bronx drug dealer just trying to make his way in this crazy world. He has a child on the way; her shrewd mother, Millie (Wanda De Jesus) has just laundered all his street earnings into a sizeable nest egg. Of course, on the night she tells him to stay in, he goes out and, of course, that's the night she delivers and, of course, that's the night his crew betrays him and two ridiculously buxom assassins gun him down.

Continue reading: Illegal Tender Review

In The Valley Of Elah Review


Excellent
Although Paul Haggis' gut-punch of a story, In the Valley of Elah, is the first truly great narrative film about the Iraq War, it only spends a total of maybe five minutes there. The rest of the time, Elah is back in the U.S., dealing with all the stomach-churning consequences of what the country has sent young men over the sea to do. For this war story, combat -- that terrifying adrenaline high that changes many soldiers forever -- would be a distraction. The film comes at the war elliptically, immersing viewers in a world of soldiers, veterans, military bases, and civilian hangers-on, where President Bush is always pontificating from a nearby radio or television and everyone gets their check, directly or indirectly, from the Pentagon.

Elah is set in late 2004, when previously pro-war segments of the population started seeing cracks in the official flag-waving rhetoric, and ugly rumors started flying about what was actually going on Over There. Haggis' hard-boiled script -- closely based on Mark Boal's harsh, eye-opening article, "Death and Dishonor," published in Playboy in 2004 -- takes the form not of a war film but of a mystery, hiding its disquieting revelations in a familiar structure. Retired military policeman Hank Deerfield (Tommy Lee Jones) finds out that his son Mike (Jonathan Tucker, from Haggis' short-lived TV show The Black Donnellys), currently serving in Iraq, went AWOL not long after coming home on R&R. Having already lost his other son to combat in Afghanistan, and convinced he's getting some sort of runaround from the army, Hank hops in his winded old pickup and heads to Mike's base looking for answers.

Continue reading: In The Valley Of Elah Review

Rick Gonzalez Monday 20th August 2007 World Premiere of 'Illegal Tender' at Chelsea West Cinema New York City, USA

Rick Gonzalez
Rick Gonzalez and Franc Reyes

Rick Gonzalez - Thursday 17th May 2007 at Madison Square Garden New York City, USA

Rick Gonzalez
Rick Gonzalez

First Snow Review


OK
What is it about Guy Pearce that makes him so attractively insular, even when he's playing an obnoxious halfwit who sells bargain basement linoleum? Last year, he started strong with his brooding performance in John Hillcoat's brutal The Proposition and ended as the only graceful note as Andy Warhol in the otherwise abysmal Factory Girl. Though it premiered at last year's Tribeca Film Festival, it's taken close to a year for someone to pick up First Snow, along with both Lonely Hearts and Comedy of Power, which also premiered at Tribeca last year. With the 2007 edition of the festival a paltry month away, a look at one of its more well-attended and well-received pieces is apt.

Pearce plays Jimmy Starks, a walking grease bucket of a salesman who is waiting for his car to get fixed when we first meet him (as if the name left any room for ethical clarity). Jimmy is trying to sell everyone: He attempts to sell a jukebox to a bar owner (he already has one), tries to sell his intellectual cynicism to a fortune teller (J.K. Simmons, playing it surprisingly low key), and tries to sell his respect to his colleagues and coworkers (William Fichtner and Rick Gonzalez, respectively). When the fortune teller tells him that he will go tits-up when the first snow hits, Starks responds with impervious flaunting and jittery paranoia. Self-aware and gaunt with confusion and doubt, Starks begins to take action to ensure he won't die. Not an easy charge with a vexed ex-partner (Shea Whigham), sneering and prodding through late night phone calls.

Continue reading: First Snow Review

Pulse (2006) Review


Bad
Earlier in 2006, a killer videogame stalked teenagers in Stay Alive; Pulse ups the ante with ghostly wireless signals stalking college students. The latest J-horror remake never pitches itself over the top, refusing to pile on the jump-scares, fake-jump-scares, and the accompanying soundtrack blasts; instead, it takes a low-key approach... along the way becoming completely unconvincing and almost prodigiously unscary. Boring is the new ridiculous.

It's a shame, too, because computer-centric horror is usually a good bet for ridiculousness. Here, the computer stuff isn't detailed enough to really bug the geeks; they'll be too busy pointing out how the movie's screenplay could be improved, and how Kristen Bell takes one of the most disappointing baths in horror history.

Continue reading: Pulse (2006) Review

Roll Bounce Review


Bad
In Roll Bounce, Malcolm D. Lee's comedy-drama set in 1978 Chicago, five friends find another place to skate after their neighborhood spot closes, but immediately get humiliated by the rink's hero and his band of well-dressed cronies. The boys leave frustrated, but return months later for the Roller Jam face-off.

We should leave happy and satisfied after rooting for these young men every step of the way, but we don't, and the reason is clear. The movie's dancers and the music may have soul, but Roll Bounce has none, and it starts with the characters.

Continue reading: Roll Bounce Review

Coach Carter Review


Good
Even those unfamiliar with real-life high school basketball coach Ken Carter might find familiar elements in the inspirational drama based on his achievements. After all, how many different ways can you tell the story of a coach who inherits a team torn apart and transforms them from chaotic underachievers to state title contenders?

Except in this case, the events actually happened. Coach Carter (Samuel L. Jackson) benched his undefeated Richmond Oilers in 1999 because the team failed to meet academic requirements he established at the start of the season. Amid protests from both school faculty and area parents, Carter locked his players out of the gymnasium and drove them into the library until their grades were up to snuff.

Continue reading: Coach Carter Review

Roll Bounce Review


OK

If the roller-disco nostalgia comedy "Roll Bounce" didn't have Malcolm D. Lee in the director's chair, it would be downright unwatchable.

Built on a sloppy, fill-in-the-blanks plot, it follows a group of rollerskate-crazy 1970s teens from Chicago's tough South Side as they're forced to migrate to trendy North Side roller disco because their run-down local rink has been shuttered. This leads inevitably to a into a rivalry with hot-shot locals and a "skate-off" finale, and the story couldn't be more stale if the script itself were a dusted-off relic from the Jimmy Carter era.

But Lee has a gift for finding gold nuggets of personality and comedy in the tailings of over-mined plots. He turned 1999's contrived reunion/wedding flick "The Best Man" into a character-rich dramedy and exploited the stupidity of 2002's "Undercover Brother" for great laughs. In "Roll Bounce," he makes up for the shopworn, thoroughly predictable source material by punching up the comedy and hiring talented young stars to flesh out the stock characters.

Continue reading: Roll Bounce Review

Laurel Canyon Review


OK

There's a lot of curious cross-national casting going on in Lisa Cholodenko's "Laurel Canyon," a dysfunctional family dramedy about a lifestyle collision between a pot-smoking, fast-living record producer and her solemn, starchy Cambridge-grad son.

Jane, the party-hardy, pushing-50 mom, is played with flaky roach-clip laissez-faire by the droll Frances McDormand -- who is the only person in the cast using her own accent.

Brit Christian Bale ("American Psycho," "Reign of Fire") puts on an American brogue to play Sam, the son endlessly irritated by his mom's lax attitude toward life, who nonetheless returns to her swimming-pool and music-studio hideaway in the Los Angeles hills, along with his fiancée, when he accepts his first residency at an area psychiatric hospital.

Continue reading: Laurel Canyon Review

Biker Boyz Review


OK

A pair of robust performances from Laurence Fishburne and Derek Luke (the Antwone Fisher of "Antwone Fisher") raise the laughably-titled motorcycle action flick "Biker Boyz" slightly above its veneer as a two-wheel rip-off of "The Fast and the Furious."

Similarly set in the "sideshow" world of illegal street racing, this movie comes minus the ridiculous cops-vs.-smugglers subplot and plus some impressive Western-inspired trick riding. In one scene two bikers speed down the freeway, dismounted to one side of their muscle-cycles with both feet in metal-soled boots, making contact with the road and sending out 20-foot sparks.

But while the plot is utterly predictable -- Kid (Luke), a hot-headed but talented up-and-coming racer, wants to challenge long-time champion Smoke (Fishburne) for his title -- the love-hate relationship between the two (Kid's dad had been Smoke's mechanic) has more depth and dimension than this kind of over-polished B-movie usually musters (see Sylvester Stallone and Kip Pardue in the formulaic, Formula One-themed "Driven").

Continue reading: Biker Boyz Review

Rick Gonzalez

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Rick Gonzalez Movies

First Snow Movie Review

First Snow Movie Review

What is it about Guy Pearce that makes him so attractively insular, even when he's...

Pulse (2006) Movie Review

Pulse (2006) Movie Review

Earlier in 2006, a killer videogame stalked teenagers in Stay Alive; Pulse ups the ante...

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Coach Carter Movie Review

Coach Carter Movie Review

Even those unfamiliar with real-life high school basketball coach Ken Carter might find familiar elements...

Roll Bounce Movie Review

Roll Bounce Movie Review

If the roller-disco nostalgia comedy "Roll Bounce" didn't have Malcolm D. Lee in the director's...

Laurel Canyon Movie Review

Laurel Canyon Movie Review

There's a lot of curious cross-national casting going on in Lisa Cholodenko's "Laurel Canyon," a...

Biker Boyz Movie Review

Biker Boyz Movie Review

A pair of robust performances from Laurence Fishburne and Derek Luke (the Antwone Fisher of...

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